NARA invites public to tag historic documents

The National Archives and Records Administration wants to make its historic documents more searchable, so it is asking the public to participate in a crowdsourcing program and tag documents in its online database.

For example, volunteers could tag an electronic copy of a letter or handwritten petition to Congress by inserting searchable keywords, or tags, into the document, that correspond with words in the document. The tags could include names of individuals such as “George Washington,” location names such as “Maryland” or “Mount Vernon,” organizations such as “Congress,” dates, events, laws and many other keywords.


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In the program’s first month of operation, volunteers have added more than 1,000 tags to historic records in the Online Public Access system, U.S. Archivist David Ferriero announced Aug. 3 in a blog entry.

“Convinced that our users know a lot about the records we are stewarding, this is an opportunity to contribute that knowledge,” Ferriero wrote. “As you search the catalog, you are invited to tag any archival description, person, or organization name records with the keywords or labels that are meaningful to you."

NARA officials expect the crowdsourced tagging to enhance the quality of the content and make it easier for people to search the documents, he added.

Users must register with NARA and agree to follow basic guidelines, such as avoiding the use of any personal information in the tags. NARA staff members review the tags before they are published.

NARA said the tags will be visible the day they are approved and indexed overnight. The agency also plans to hold group tagging events to help facilitate use of the features.

In a related effort, NARA’s Wikipedian in residence, Dominic McDevitt-Parks, has been recruiting volunteers to digitize significant historic documents this summer. After they are digitized, the electronic versions of the documents will be proofread, tagged and indexed.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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